Motorcycle sales up, motorcycle fatalities high

Motorcycle sales were up 8.2% for the first quarter of 2015

Motorcycle sales for the first quarter were up 8.2 percent, according to the industry trade group Motorcycle Industry Council.

That number reflects sales data from 20 leading brands, and covers sales of road bikes, off-road bikes, dual sport bikes and scooters.

That's good news, but could foretell a coming increase in motorcyclist deaths.

Motorcycle fatalities for 2014 remained stubbornly high, a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association said.

Though motorcycles account for only 3 percent of vehicles on the road, their riders and passengers account for 14 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle-related deaths.

Estimated total fatalities for 2014 will total 4,584, GHSA said, when the data set is complete. That's a 1.8 percent drop from 2013, when 4,668 people died in motorcycle incidents.

But that fatality rate is double the number of deaths tabulated during the late 1990s, GHSA said -- and are more stark because automobile traffic deaths have dropped, due to improved auto safety features.

Motorcycle deaths accounted for only 5 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle deaths in 1997, but represented 14 percent of all motor vehicle deaths in 2013.

The report blamed the stubbornly high death rate on lax helmet laws, unlicensed riders, speeding, and the use of drugs and alcohol.

Only 19 of the 50 states have universal helmet laws, most of the remainders requiring helmets only for riders under 18 or in some cases 21. In those states, the GHSA report stated, helmet use is typically below 50 percent.

The GHSA report came down squarely against limited or lax helmet laws. "Motorcycle deaths ... were substantially lower in states with universal laws than in those with no laws or laws applying only to young motorcyclists."

By state, California ranked third in 2013 for motorcycle fatalities, behind Texas and Florida, neither of which has California's universal helmet law.

The National Highway Transporation Safety Administration has said, in other reports, that 800 lives a year could be saved if universal helmet laws were adopted nationwide.

That wouldn't necessarily address other problems, GHSA said. More than a third of riders killed in motorcycle accidents were speeding at the time of the fatal crash, the report said. About a quarter did not have valid licenses.

Also, the report said, not enough of them were riding motorcycles equipped with anti-lock brake systems, or ABS. The GHSA study said the rate of fatal crashes was 31 percent lower for motorcycles equipped with ABS.

"Motorcycling remains a dangerous pursuit," the study concluded. Per mile driven, the study said, motorcyclists were 26 times more likely to lose their lives on the road than passenger vehicle occupants.

Twitter: @misterfleming


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